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Judith Lavagna is a Berlin based independent curator. Her work experience in France and Germany drives her to enhance her approach of curating towards the creation of residencies program, group exhibitions and exchanges in the two countries. Her practice aims to create performative structures that investigate processual formats of exhibition-making towards collaborative forms of work.

She curated several residency projects (AFFECT, 2014; Fugitif, 2011), workshops and programs ('Self-monitoring as a curatorial experiment', 2014 ; 'The performative curatorial studio', 2013), focusing on critical and creative contexts where the relationship artist / curator is challenged through active forms of inquiries.

Her exhibitions explore the collecting of resources and ever-changing formats in circulation, questioning the notions of multiple authorship and living archive ('unbreaken', AFFECT, 2014 ; 'new atlantis', co-curated with Elisa R. Linn and Lennart Wolf, 2013; 'we outsourced everything and now we’re bored.', with Clémence de La Tour du Pin and John Henry Newton, 2013). Another area of her research within the field of performance art focuses on re-enactments of existing artworks and how to display time based performance in a durational context ('Displaying the Instant', 2013 ; 'To perform an exhibition', 2012).

Judith Lavagna was co-curator and assistant director at L’Atelier-ksr, Berlin (2013), collaborator at the Month of Performance Art Berlin (2013-12) and co-director at Ars Longa’s project space, Paris (2010-08). She holds a MA in Curating Contemporary Art (Paris-Sorbonne) and in Fine Arts (École Européenne Supérieure d’Art de Bretagne, Rennes), France.

Interview led by Jeroen van der Hulst, Photography by Pedro Jardim. Spring 2014. Reedited in February 2016.


What does curating mean to you?

Curating is not just about organising, coordinating and setting up a show or an event. For me, effective curatorial practice is a creative act on its own. A curator must have ideas! And try to find a constructive way to develop them, depending on the people he's gonna work with and which context, forms of display, interaction and reception can be produced, for which necessities.

A curator needs to know how to practice an 'art of conversation' with its interlocutors, trying to formulate a proposal towards multiple forms of thought and dialogue. A curator has to understand and 'feel' the context in which he is, putting a direction to work with the artists he's working with in relation to the environment in which the project could take place. It's a work that both combine theory and practice and deals with many processes, strategies, affects, failures and issues overlapping at the same time. This complexity needs to be 'facilitate' into possible frameworks and working methods to be produced in the aim of creating an exhibition or any kind of form that could be share as a possible outcome that require the presence of an audience. Curating involves a sense of responsibility in building constellations, mediating artworks and also requires good listening skills.

In my work I try to constantly question what an artist and a curator could experience together while they work and combine artistic processes and possible outcomes within creating and curating. I'm trying to learn and experience how to formulate ideas in this interstice, like a flux, a cure and a daze that needs to find a form of existence while accepting change as inevitable: a practice that keeps a certain experimental quality in regards to the nature of the collaboration and the project itself.

Your work tends to involve many fronts - you are always gathering people from different practices and initiatives. What are the challenges in managing such projects?

What is challenging is working in different sectors those manifest themselves in various forms of researches and inquiries. The practice of the curatorial can be extensive and multidisciplinary: being involve in different disciplines and formats of investigation is challenging in the way the projects could be developed and extended to a creative context. Managing such processes within a constellation of different people, needs and formats of reception require a lot of flexibility: you have to know how to built tangible structures and working methodologies that could follow some strong frameworks as well as being constantly reformulate. A strategy depending on various situations and parameters that needs to be conceived, reinvented and sometimes performed without loosing the conceptual lines you have defined at the very beginning.

Which obstacles do you encounter in this process of adapting and reinventing formats?

Confusion! You need to know how to keep it 'simple'. The challenge in working with a group people is that every single project has to be approached individually and deserves it’s own pattern completely. You have to facilitate a discussion that requires a gradual development of the process involved in it in order to reach a collaborative one. When you choose a constellation of people to work with, you already start to built a conceptual format and a mental 'vision' of the project in relation to each artist' works and points of interest. You are initiating and challenging different dynamics between them and also yourself : it requires time and negotiation from both parts. It’s not only about the curation of artworks, but more about an art production related to different 'states of minds': a teamwork conceived as a physical and mental space for exercising doubts and researches, where mutual trust is crucial for the benefits of the collaboration and the project itself. Experiencing and sharing processual formats of works in the practice of the curatorial is also determined by your ability in challenging displays into a specific environment. You also need to think about the audience you would like to reach: if you want to implies it into different roles, for example from observers to participants and inversely.

You have experienced several contexts, projects and cities in Europe - why is Berlin a place that your current practice makes sense?

Berlin gives me the possibility to work in a very stimulating, independent and international environment. This creative city allow yourself to work in a more experimental way than in other cities in Europe, such as for example Paris where I come from.

What was your role at L’Atelier-ksr?

I had different roles and positions when I collaborated with Stefania Angelini (director at L'Atelier-ksr) in 2013.

I was assistant director, co-curator, coordinator of the whole program and also assist her on art fairs. It was really interesting to contribute on the development of L'Atelier-ksr cause the space is define as both a gallery, with artists it represents for solo-show and art fairs, and a project space, which allow more creativity in the conception of an artistic program.

Some of your projects – such as we outsourced everything now we’re bored - deal with very current issues within society. Please elaborate on them.

'We outsourced everything now we’re bored.' (2013) was related to the use and the influence of digital transformation in our daily and networked life's : it was underlying the complexity of multiple authorship, collecting sources and distributing them.

The publication by artists Clémence de La Tour du Pin and John Henry Newton was structured towards a correspondence of protocols and performative instructions they were sending to each other via e-mails.

When I joined the project (the book started to be produced between the two artists), we tried to extend this online conversation into an exhibition format that could reflect on a correspondence and a circulation within the book itself and into the physical form of an exhibition. While dealing with similar issues in the notion of sourcing and outsourcing, the curatorial intentions were not only about creating an extension of the book to an exhibition space but to make these two formats evolving together as forms of exchange and nourishment. It really turned into something absolutely amazing; trying to find a way to practice and materialise a digital communication between the artists and myself, and between the formats of the book and the exhibition space. Somehow, in a very performative way, the project grew continuously because of our networking research online; we specifically invited certain artists and writers for contributions to the book and/or the exhibition until the deadline stopped us.

That is why I am interested in this question of what this performative development means and how we could reinvent our roles between artists and curators: this experimentation opens up the idea of how to perform the curatorial, notably through 'The Performative Curatorial Studio' co-developed with Lara Merrington in June 2013.

Here in Agora, you have been active in two experimental formats, firstly with To Perform an Exhibition with Agora Collective and The Performative Curatorial Studio in collaboration with Lara Merrington during Agora Collects. Please, tell us how these projects worked and what it felt like to be involved with them?

Well, the first one 'To Perform an Exhibition', was a body-based project which took the situation of the group show as reflexive subject matter. The artists performed collective actions in response to the individual works presented by the participating artists in L’Atelier’s program during the Month of Performance Art (MPA), as well as to the relational behaviour of the audience and the general frame of the gallery itself. The collective occupied the basement of the gallery during 9 hours. The project took two months preparation with eight people that have very different backgrounds, where we developed different frameworks and working methodology in order to perform the project live in relation to the audience and the artists exhibiting.

During this two-months process leading up to it, we were working hard and getting trained to be effective in working in such an experimental manner. By ‘trained’ I mean that we’ve created performative methods, 'tool boxes' and structures on observing and analysing the exhibition and its activities we constantly had to adapt to. An essential factor was the role of the audience and how they would behave and interact with us.

It was a dream as a curator to conceive a collective project in which we could really question, discuss and producing texts and actions about how to 'see' and experience an exhibition in a performative way and in a lively format involving the public.

To go back to the collaboration with Lara Merrington; it was very challenging because we had very little time to organise the project - five or six weeks, and we didn't know each other. Also Agora gave us 'carte blanche' for one day over the entire top floor during Agora Collects. We first had to get to know each other and construct a common ground very fast. We knew that we wanted something lively and engaged. For the festival itself, we thought it was very important to first take into account Agora’s roots, which are mostly based on collaborative and multidisciplinary practices. So what Lara and I were trying to bring to the table was to get in touch with these issues by inviting some artists, writers and curators to think about experimental theory and practices which revolve around performative qualities in the relationship between artists and curators. John Holten, for example, was involved because he is handling his identity and his work as a writer, lecturer, publisher and also a curator in this blurring of roles and of mixing reality and fiction in his own statue.

"Agora Collects" was going to be a festival with many people and we wanted to implicate and challenge the audience by engaging it. The public was large and not always aware of curatorial or artistic practices in their performative aspects. So what we tried to do through lively formats and roundtable discussions, in which the audience was invited to participate, was to build an adaptive structure (conceived by artist and curator Lorenzo Sandoval) that permanently changes in relation to the interventions of the day, linking the format of the intervention to the forms of their meanings. This goes back to our objective of making an active audience and also to put the voice of the artist, the curator and the voice of the audience (the participant) next to each other.